17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”Luke 5:17-26, ESV
Luke is a fantastic narrator.
Luke has been systematically revealing who Jesus is on every page of this Gospel. At the end of the third chapter, Jesus is revealed to be the Son of God at His baptism with the Holy Spirit’s descent and the Father’s declaration. After that crescendo, Luke inserted a genealogy. At first glance, that might seem like a strange anticlimactic way to organize the narrative of Jesus’ person and work. Still, upon deeper reflection, the genealogy was a beautiful link between Jesus’ person and Jesus’ work. The genealogy began with Jesus and worked backward until it concluded with the first man, Adam, called the son of God by Luke. The genealogy’s purpose was to compare Jesus and Adam as two sons of God who were representatives of all humanity. Adam was a son of God who rebelled and brought death to us all. Jesus was the Son of God who would obey and bring life to us all.
In chapter four, Luke showed Jesus to be obedient to God, unlike Adam, in the face of the Devil’s temptation. After Jesus triumphed over Satan’s temptations, He proclaimed Himself to be the long-awaited Messiah with Isaiah 61 in His hometown of Nazareth. Luke described the enraged disbelief in Nazareth and highlighted the belief Capernaum in contrast. From Galilean town to Galilean town, Jesus proved His assertion in Nazareth by proclaiming good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovering sight to the blind, and setting free those oppressed by devils.
Luke’s fifth chapter continues revealing Jesus as the Authoritative King who commands all Creation with His mouth. Jesus invited Himself upon Peter’s boat and then instructed Peter to cast his nets for a catch. In all Creation, the only creatures that stiffen at Jesus’ commands are humans. Peter reluctantly obeys and immediately see’s Jesus as Holy, and therefore Peter repents as a sinner ought to. Jesus receives repentant sinners and has claimed Peter as His own. As the theme of Jesus being Holy is introduced, the narrative moves toward interaction with a leper. The leper is ritually unclean and barred from human interaction to keep his corruption from spreading, but Jesus touched that leper to cleanse and heal Him by His Holy word. Jesus is intrinsically Holy and therefore, what He chooses to touch becomes Holy, like the ground that was too holy for Moses’ shoes. That quality of Holiness is what makes Jesus a better priest.
So then, Luke has been teaching us that Jesus is the Son of God. He is the new representative of humanity who obeys God’s will where Adam failed. Jesus is the Messiah who the entire Old Testament has been patiently waiting for, and He demonstrates that to be the truth by prophetic fulfillment. Christ’s methodology of fulfillment is calling things that are not into existence (Rom 4:17) by His very words’ authority. He is Holy, and therefore men rightly repent and are changed by His touch. In a few short chapters, Luke has given us a description of Jesus as the obedient Son of God, defeating Satan and restoring men by His own Holy words. In short, Luke has described Jesus to be God.
Hearers only and not doers.
The book of James is relatively short but full of impact. One such statement in James chapter 1 is “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Christians are commanded to act upon God’s words and not merely to fill their heads with theology. The Pharisees, Jesus’ favorite opposition, were famous for their heads being full of good theology.
In our passage, Luke 5:17-26, the scene is set with Pharisees and teachers from far and wide were gathered and listening to Jesus with an enormous crowd who came to hear Jesus and be healed by Him. Luke wastes no ink. The Pharisees are identified because Jesus will declare His identity in a way that would likely go over the head of every man in the room, except those Pharisees. Jesus is about to capture their full attention.
There was a small group of friends, four men, who carried a paralyzed man to Jesus. We are not given the backstory, how did this man become paralyzed? What was the relationship between this needy soul and his friends? All we know is those four friends could not possibly have loved their paralyzed friend any more than they did. Obstacles abounded in their pursuit of bringing their friend to Jesus, but the four friends overcame every obstacle, and nothing would stand in their way for the sake of their companion. As they finally broke open the roof and lowered the person with paralysis to Jesus, He said something no one expected, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” I imagine the four friends thinking, “Is that all?” Maybe the paralyzed man thought, “Yes, thank you, but what about my legs?” We are not made aware of their thoughts, but Luke recorded the opinions of those Pharisees.
The force of Jesus’ words of forgiveness were not at all lost on the Pharisees. They immediately realized that he equated Himself to God, and therefore, because of their unbelief, they would accuse Jesus of Blasphemy. In this case, Blasphemy would have been the sin of falsely identifying one’s self as divine. The Pharisees did hear Jesus correctly. Their theological instincts were acute, but their mistake was rejecting Jesus’ claim of divinity.
Jesus spoke forgiveness over that man for a particular purpose. He was always going to heal that paralyzed man, but He was simultaneously going to be glorified through that suffering. Our Saviour knew the thoughts of those Pharisees and addressed them exclusively. Can you picture Jesus as he turns away from the man lying on the floor to make eye contact with the religious elite? Jesus said, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
The proof of divinity that Jesus proposed to his theological opponents was essentially to say; any false prophet can “say” someone’s sins are forgiven because there is no way to measure the truth of such a statement. However, Jesus offered them the proof of recreating the man’s ability to walk as the analogy of His authority to forgive sins with His word. Could a false prophet be allowed by God to claim divine status and then perform divine acts as proof? The Pharisees now found themselves between a theological rock and a hard place because Jesus turned His attention to the paralyzed man again and commanded him to pick up his bed and go home. To the joy of those friends and the shame of those Pharisees, that man stood up and glorified God in obedience to Jesus’ words.
How did those unbelieving Pharisees respond? They were still unconvinced. They had all the necessary theological head knowledge to understand the implications of Jesus’ claims. They did not have soft hearts to receive the truth of Christ, and therefore their actions remained unrepentant. Christian, may we have heads full of theological truth, hearts soft, and actions that flow naturally from both as we endeavor to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.